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Indonesia fires spark Singapore, Malaysia haze warning

JAKARTA - Indonesia's disaster agency warned Wednesday that haze could return to neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia after a huge jump in forest fires in a province at the centre of a smog crisis last year.

Fires in Riau province, on western Sumatra island, caused the worst outbreak of haze in Southeast Asia for more than a decade in June last year, affecting daily life for millions and sparking a heated diplomatic row.

June is the start of the forest fire season -- when slash-and-burn techniques are used to clear land quickly and cheaply, often for palm oil plantations -- and disaster officials said the number of blazes in Riau was rising quickly.

A total of 366 "hotspots" -- either forest fires or areas likely to soon go up in flames -- had been detected in the province on Wednesday, up from 97 the previous day, according to disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

"We must be on alert as the wind is travelling east-northeast. The likelihood of the smog reaching Singapore and Malaysia is getting higher," Nugroho said.

Experts have said that an expected El Nino weather phenomenon later this year is likely to fan the forest fires as conditions become drier than usual.

AFP


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